Israel and the World Powers

Since the idea for this book was first mooted, back in 2008, the concept has evolved considerably. The world has moved on. Barack Obama was then a marginal outsider for the presidential prize. Thus, the ideas at the heart of this book have gone through an extensive process of being reformulated, updated and fully developed. It is intended that this collection will prove to be an accessible work for the specialist and the student, the serious reader and the plainly curious. The relationship between Israel and a particular country is governed by a multitude of factors – some worthy and beyond politics; others are in turn self-serving, cynical and anchored firmly in the national interest. Outside of polemics, this is interesting because any study of Israel, regardless of views, is stimulating, often controversial and poses new questions. Indeed Zionism – in its socialist definition – gave rise to a workers’ republic in May 1948.

Its emergence was unacceptable to the American far right, feudal Arab kingdoms and those who hankered after the good old days of British imperialism. Zionism was unique theoretically – and proved difficult to fit into conventional Marxist theory. This mirrored the problem of enlightened Europe to emancipate fully the Jews. As Max Nordau commented in 1897:


The philosophy of Rousseau and the encyclopaedists had led to a declaration of human rights. Then this declaration, the strict logic of men of the Great Revolution, deduced Jewish emancipation. They formulated a regular equation: Every man is born with certain rights; the Jews are human beings, consequently the Jews are born to all the rights of man. In this manner the emancipation of the Jews was pronounced, not through a fraternal feeling for the Jews, but because logic demanded it. Popular sentiment rebelled, but the philosophy of the Revolution decreed that principles must be placed higher than sentiments. Allow me an expression which implies no ingratitude. The men of 1792 emancipated us only for the sake of principle.1


The rise of modern anti-Semitism persuaded Jews in fin de siècle Europe that a new way had to be found. They understood that they had to take matters into their own hands – auto-emancipation rather than emancipation by others. This led to a plethora of solutions to the Jewish problem and in its territorialist answer spawned a host of Jewish homelands –

from Angola to Tasmania, from Kimberley to Uganda. And of course Palestine where the Jewish odyssey traditionally began. Such a move to channel the lessons of the Enlightenment in a specifically national direction did not endear the Jews to liberals, universalists and utopianists.

Why, they asked, did the Jews have to separate themselves? Why could they not devote themselves to repairing the world? Many therefore said Zionism was simply wrong. Many Jews responded that it was not wrong, it was different. A difference generated by the reality in which the Jews found themselves.

This difference was inherited by the state of Israel. Its birth was further complicated by a host of factors. The late emergence of Jewish nationalism had coincided with the rise of Arab nationalism in an epoch of national liberation struggles against colonial powers. Palestinian Arab nationalists had therefore to struggle against both Zionist Jews and British rule. In addition Arab socialism did not fully develop and gave way to Arab nationalism and Islamism.

Indeed Israel was excluded from the first conference of the non-aligned nations in Bandung in 1955 because of the threat of the Arab world not to attend if an Israeli representative was present. Nehru and Tito were thereby forced to include the feudal kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen, excluding social democratic Israel, which would have, under other circumstances, seemed to many to be a more natural ally. The empowerment of the Arab states through its oil revenues in the 1970s persuaded many newly independent states in Africa to break their diplomatic ties with Israel – even though cooperation in many areas continued below the radar.

One consequence was to push Israel unwisely into the arms of apartheid South Africa. Israel’s isolation extended to Eastern Europe. Whereas it had been in the Soviet Union’s national interest to relegate the Leninist approach to Zionism to a lower rung and support the emergence of a state of the Jews in 1947, twenty years later it was not. It therefore broke off diplomatic relations, following Israel’s military victory over several Arab states in June 1967. Many East European states dutifully followed suit.

However, the popular sentiment in Warsaw was that ‘our Polish Jews have vanquished the Russian Arabs’. This anti-Soviet sympathy for Israel even persisted after 1991 during the post-Soviet period. Such isolation by the Arab world, the developing world and the Soviet bloc pushed Israel closer towards the Americans and into numerous alliances with unsavoury regimes. Moshe Sharett’s desire to remain unaligned and to support neither

East nor West was still-born. The dream of making the African desert bloom was marginalised and regarded now as irrelevant – as Israel’s national interests took over. This was one factor in the demise of labour Zionism and the rise of an overt nationalism under Menachem Begin.

Yet this isolation was magically broken through a concatenation of events – the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the election of Clinton in the US and Rabin in Israel as well as Arafat’s weakened position, following his calamitous praise for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

The success of the Oslo Accords in 1993 opened up the floodgates as far as diplomatic relations with Israel was concerned. The new Russia, China, India, many Arab states, new countries such as Slovenia and Slovakia – all rushed to establish ties with Rabin’s Israel. Since the end of the peace process of the 1990s, the outbreak of violence and the stagnation of politics generally, there has been a real frostiness in relations between Israel and many a country, including the Obama administration.

The expansion of settlements on the West Bank has cemented a distancing from Israel. During a period of economic hardship, there has been a resigned acceptance of a situation where there is no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. A multi-faceted, changing situation has therefore been described and documented by the contributors to this book.


The Imperial Powers and Germany

 Neill Lochery and Francois Lafon write about the vexed relationship between the imperial powers, Britain and France, and Israel.

Britain, of course, was the Mandatory power and took months to come to the inevitable decision to recognise Israel. In general, the UK was always prepared to sell arms to the Arabs, but not to Israel. The British Foreign Office was popularly regarded as being institutionally anti-Israeli. Neill Lochery indicates that the situation was in fact more complex.

While Britain identified strongly with the survivors of the Holocaust, it could not circumvent the fact that trade with and the import of oil from the Arab world was in British national interests. By the mid-1970s, the UK’s thirst for oil was acute. The basic line, exemplified by the Craigium Dictum, was that British national interests lay with the Arabs, but Israel’s security should not be compromised. Moreover Britain had to cope with the underlying feeling that many Arab states blamed the UK for the establishment of the state.

Different British Prime Ministers tried to balance their personal approach to Israel with what was perceived as the national interest. Wilson and Thatcher were viewed as sympathetic while Heath and Callaghan remained cool towards Israel. Neill Lochery shows that the traditional picture of Thatcher’s sympathy for Israel whilst the Foreign Office was antagonistic is in fact rather superficial.

The Venice Declaration of June 1980 was the first time that the Europeans had spoken about the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. This was the culmination of the move of the British Foreign Office towards such a position. Following the Lebanon war in 1982, Mrs Thatcher moved towards a more critical approach. Ironically she was closer to Labour’s Shimon Peres than to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In terms of identifying with Israel’s situation, Tony Blair was seen as a second Harold Wilson. Even so, following the decision to send British troops to Iraq in March 2003, the UK had to be more sensitive to Arab concerns.

Francois Lafon begins his overview by detailing the responsibility of historians to both the subject they are examining and to their readers. He also documents the remarkable fluctuations in official French attitudes. France has always felt an obligation to supervise the affairs of Palestine. Indeed the rivalry between Britain and France was utilised by Chaim Weizmann to persuade the British to support the Zionist experiment in Palestine and to issue the Balfour Declaration in 1917. By the early 1920s France had to accept that its mandate only extended over Syria and Lebanon while the British ruled a swathe of territories to their south including Palestine.

Since Napoleon first landed in Egypt in 1798 in the hope of locating the splendour of the lost civilisation of the Ptolemies, France believed that it had a special mission in the Holy Land. From this flowed the argument that it therefore had to have privileged relations with the Arab world. Yet other factors intervened, such as the persecution of French Jews by the Vichy regime and the deportations to the East by the Nazi occupier. Significantly France voted for UN Resolution 181 on 29 November 1947 in support of a two-state solution while Britain abstained.

Leon Blum and Jean-Paul Sartre passionately advocated the cause of a progressive Israel in the immediate post-war period.

France moved much closer towards Israel when Nasser was perceived as aiding the FLN. Under Guy Mollet, Israel clandestinely received vital weapons during the Soviet arms build-up in 1955. A year later, it colluded with Israel in the amateurish deception practised at Suez. De Gaulle was brought back to the Élysée Palace to solve the Algerian question. His fiercely anti-British attitude was partly responsible for a rapprochement with the Arab world. And, of course, his seemingly defamatory description of Jews as ‘an elite people, sure of themselves and domineering’ was seen as insensitive and offensive. This alignment with the Arab world was continued under his successors Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

As with Britain, the questions of trade and oil imports loomed large. The coming to the fore of the Palestinian cause in the 1970s also began to influence public opinion. Thus France assisted in the construction of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The election of the socialist Francois Mitterand in 1981 saw a move away from an automatic pro-Arab stance, yet the warmer relationship with Israel was conditional on the policies enacted by right-wing Israeli governments.

The ambiguous nature of French policy was reflected in the refusal to sell arms to Israel, but to do so to Hafez Assad’s Syria. Since 2000, the changes in French policy have become even more dramatic. Whereas Jacques Chirac espoused closer ties with the Arab world as a result of the al-Aqsa Intifada, his successor, Nicolas Sarkozy advocated the same with Israel. Yet as Francois Lafon points out, Sarkozy’s Mediterranean region policy initiative collapsed with the advent of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in late 2010 and early 2011, and the historic French cultivation of relations with Gaddafi and Assad now became an obvious embarrassment.

While Francois Hollande has acted very quickly to condemn attacks against Jews by home-grown Islamists, when it comes to policy towards Israel, he seems to be following the British approach of offending neither side while promoting French national interests.

As Michael Wolfssohn succinctly points out in his contribution, Germany is the most special of special cases in terms of a country’s relations with Israel. The Holocaust and the merciless Nazi persecution of the Jews has always been a factor in Israeli-German relations. Yet as Germany moved out of the Nazi era after-effect, there was also the question of German national interests, the desire for sovereignty and the reintegration into the international community. Konrad Adenauer recognised this even in the early 1950s in the context of the reparations negotiations. Some 44 per cent of the German public actually opposed such restitution. Even more interestingly, the Communist German Democratic Republic rejected any reparations because Communists, they argued, were also persecuted by the Nazis.

The worst tensions always occurred when an SPD administration was in power in Germany and a Likud government in Israel. The Herut movement, led by Begin as the Irgun Zvai Leumi in politics, initially refused to have anything to do with post-war Germany. Begin participated in the attack on the Knesset by angry protestors in 1952 and indeed egged on his supporters by his incendiary rhetoric.

Michael Wolffsohn draws attention to the Hallstein Doctrine which stated that Federal West Germany would not have diplomatic relations with states recognising the GDR. West Germany was always worried that the Arab states would recognise the GDR. This threat prevented the West Germans from fully recognising Israel. However it was the visit of the East German leader, Walter Ulbrecht, to Egypt in 1965 that finally pushed the West Germans to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel a few months later.

German-Israeli relations have always been different to the rest of Europe. There was a secret agreement in June 1962 for German military arms sale to Israel and an economic agreement in 1966 which provided low interest loans. By the time Angela Merkel assumed the position of Chancellor, there was a strong commitment to Israel’s security and to the export of German arms to Israel. Merkel was also instrumental in the opposition to the UN declaration of a Palestinian state in the autumn of 2011. Even the German Left – as distinct from the European Left – has always been circumspect in language and action in condemning both Israel and its government.

The Dominions and the New Europe

Post-war Europe was a continent which struggled to secure a coherent identity. Two world wars had left behind ruin and disaster in unimaginable terms. The desire to prevent catastrophe from striking a third time was a motivating factor in developing a union of European countries, bound together by common interests.

Beginning in 1950 with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Union evolved into a twenty-seven member-state group in the post-Soviet era. In 2012 it symbolically won the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet the transition from empire to continental affiliate was often an arduous and sometimes long drawn-out process. The process of decolonisation was sometimes bloody and of course Ho Chi Minh’s victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 was the classic example of an independence movement overcoming the will of their colonial masters. In the post-World War II period, the British, it seemed on the surface, were more amenable to decolonisation.

Commencing with India in 1947 and Palestine a year later, the post-war shrinking of the British Empire proceeded throughout the second half of the twentieth century. There were significant signposts on the way – Gold Coast (1957), Rhodesia (1980) and Hong Kong (1997). Even the complex situation of apartheid South Africa which had left the Commonwealth in 1961 had been overcome by Nelson Mandela and the ANC in the 1990s.

Golda Meir had made a virtue out of helping impoverished African states, now free of the ravages of colonialism, during the 1960s. Israel saw itself as part of an international of social democratic parties whose desire was to help newly established states in the developing world to literally get on their economic feet. As Sasha Polakow-Suransky points out, South Africa had been selling uranium to Israel as early as 1965 – presumably to feed Israel’s secret nuclear programme. It was originally not an easy relationship since the Prime Minister at that time was Hendrik Verwoerd who was known for his dislike of Jews and pro-German sympathies in the 1930s.

The Jewish community in South Africa strongly supported the sole progressive member of parliament, Helen Suzman, today lionised as an iconic member of the anti-apartheid struggle. As liberal as the Jewish community was, there was also a desire not to rock the boat too strongly and to maintain a relationship with Israel. The Israelis themselves had been vocal in their attacks on apartheid in the early 1960s. Moreover the armed struggle against apartheid was disproportionately populated by mainly Communist Jews. All this did not incline the Afrikaaner nationalists towards a benevolent attitude to either Jews or Israelis.

Yet as Sasha Polakow-Suransky demonstrates, everything had changed diametrically within a decade. The growing diplomatic, economic and political isolation of Israel especially after the Yom Kippur war forced Israel into some difficult decisions. The blossoming of a military-industrial complex in these circumstances provided the basis for a close relationship between Israel and South Africa. While the Arab states spoke about ‘a Zionist invasion of Africa’ which had now been stemmed in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, Shimon Peres, then Minister of Defence and an inheritor of Ben-Gurion’s doctrine of realism, visited South Africa secretly. Peres offered to sell ‘Chalet’ missiles to the South Africans which were capable of carrying nuclear loads. He told the South African leadership that their cooperation was based on ‘the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it’.

In the 1970s under the Labour government of Rabin and Peres, Israel began to sell arms to unsavoury regimes such as Mobutu’s Zaire and to hand over tritium, an isotope of hydrogen to apartheid South Africa – a necessary ingredient to increase the power of thermonuclear weapons.

This trend was accentuated when Labour lost the 1977 election and Likud’s Menahem Begin came to power. He had fled from the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and ended up in the Soviet Gulag a year later. His experiences before and after 1939 developed a fierce anti-

Communism in his approach. He therefore shared with South Africa a survivalist mentality and was less concerned about the anti-apartheid movement than his Labour predecessors. In 1979 the Islamic Revolution in Iran deprived Israel of another partner in missile development and dented its belief in its strategy of allies on the periphery. The Israeli military turned from the Shah to an even closer relationship with South Africa.

Yet the 1980s bore witness to a rising wave of protest against apartheid – and particularly in the United States. The US Jewish community were overwhelmingly liberal, with over 75 per cent voting for the Democrats in most of the post-war presidential elections. Recalling their collective role in the civil rights’ struggle, American Jews felt strongly about apartheid as well – and this led to increasing criticism about Israel’s links with South Africa. Indeed AIPAC which fought for the Israeli government’s approach within the American political arena became concerned that this was actively diminishing support for Israel.

As Sasha Polokow-Suransky notes, it was the Comprehensive Anti- Apartheid Act in 1986 which contained a clause that the US would cut off military assistance to any country violating the embargo. This shocked the Shamir-Peres government and created a sea change in Israeli policy.

All this did not impress the ANC. Since Mandela and his successors have been in power, the new South Africa’s relations with Israel can be characterised as being ‘correct’ rather than being ‘warm’.

Another British dominion, Australia, pursued a whites-only policy for the first half of the twentieth century. Unlike South Africa, it moved towards a multi-ethnic society in the post-war period. Australia had always been positive in its attitude towards Jews and Jewish nationalism.

As Suzanne Rutland points out Australia together with the other white dominions Canada, New Zealand and South Africa all voted in favour of a two-state solution at the UN on 29 November 1947, while the mother country Britain abstained. Moreover Australia extended immediate recognition to Israel despite British objections. Indeed during the Suez campaign Australia opposed the US at the UN in rejecting a call for an immediate ceasefire. Yet Australia too began to develop ties with the Arab world in the mid-1960s.

Gough Whitlam and the Australian Labour Party were elected in December 1972. This heralded the end of the ‘white Australia’ policy and the advent of multiculturalism. In a period of decolonisation Australia, like Europe, began to express remorse about the legacy of colonialism.

The treatment of the native peoples of Australia was invoked. Moreover Australia began to reach out to the developing world in the Asia-Pacific region. The question of the Palestinians fitted in much more easily in an age of decolonisation than did that of social democratic Israel. The settlement drive on the conquered West Bank after 1967 accentuated this sentiment. Moreover as Suzanne Rutland indicates, Australian foreign policy, particularly in the wake of the increase in oil prices, now adopted a balanced policy towards the Israel-Palestine conflict which reflected national interests. There was also a movement away from identifying with Britain towards the US.

Mirroring many other social democratic governments in Europe, Labour governments in Australia tried to avoid getting sucked into the arguments about the conflict while maintaining national interests in the Arab world. Bob Hawke therefore was extremely enthusiastic about Israel while in opposition but became more ambivalent when in office between 1983 and 1991. Under Paul Keating, Australian policy moved towards a deeper identification with the developing world and closer regional ties with countries such as Indonesia. Suzanne Rutland argues that even during the years of the Oslo Accords, the Keating Administration propagated a pro-Palestinian position. The Liberal party’s John Howard, Keating’s successor as prime minister and ideological rival, immediately identified with a pro-Israel position. This mirrored a strong support for the White House of George W. Bush and by extension for Israel. With the return to power of the Australian Labour party in 2007, a more nuanced, critical approach of Israeli policy ensued. In the twenty-first century, support for Israel often became a dividing line between the Right and Left in many a country.

The Australian experience reflected the emerging picture in Europe.

Ironically, yet understandably, the new state of Israel had deep reservations about a relationship with a continent where the abandonment of the Jews had taken place a short time before. It was therefore, as Raffaella Del Sarto points out, with a certain degree of reticence that Israel established an office in Brussels to liaise with the newly established European Communities following the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Modern Zionism was, of course, born in Europe and reflected faithfully the ideas of nineteenth-century European nationalism. Its intellectual leadership had congregated in cosmopolitan Odessa which was conceived as Russia’s trading window on the West. Despite this, Israel’s reservations about Europe were deepened at what was perceived as Europe’s inactivity prior to the Six Day War. In a period of decolonisation, Europe’s unquestioning fidelity to Israel was undergoing subtle adjustments.

Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the EU issued a statement which argued for legitimate Palestinian rights. This was followed by the instigation of a Europe-Arab dialogue in view of the threat by OPEC to stop oil exports to European countries. The Venice Declaration of 1980 called for the ‘association’ of the PLO in future peace negotiations and spoke about settlements in ‘occupied Arab territories’. The PLO at that time officially wanted a state in all of mandatory Palestine. The EC repeatedly took a critical line on all issues (e.g. the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the first Intifada in 1988, the settlement drive). All this was in stark contrast to US policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict. EU policy was modified when the Likud was ousted in the elections of 1992 and Yitzhak Rabin came to power.

Significantly, as Raffaella Del Sarto points out, an ongoing critical attitude towards Israel in the realm of foreign and security policy did not impair cooperation in other fields. The first trade agreements between the EU and Israel were signed in 1970 and in 1975. By 1996 Israel had become the first non-European power to participate in the EU’s research and development framework. In 2008 Israel joined the academic programmes Tempus and Erasmus Mundi. In the same year, Israel requested an upgrading in its relations with the EU and even asked for participation in the EU’s council meetings. The EU agreed to regular meetings between Israel’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and their counterparts each year. As Raffaella Del Sarto notes, the EU today remains Israel’s largest trading partner with an annual trade volume of around €25 billion.

The New Turkey

Yet despite this, non-political relations retreat from the public gaze if there is a flare-up in the Middle East such as Israel’s assault on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2009. In the political arena, the EU continues to be critical of Israeli policy during the twenty-first century from the building of the separation barrier to the expansion of West Bank settlements. Its approach has tended to align itself with Palestinian nationalism rather than Palestinian Islamism – agreeing with the United States to oppose contacts with Hamas when the movement achieved power. Yet there have also been quiet if unofficial contacts with Hamas and a greater willingness to engage with Islamists generally following the uprisings of late 2010 and 2011.

The question of Turkey’s admission to membership of the European Union has been an undecided question since its application to join in 1987. The controversy has revolved around the basic question of Turkey as partner and Turkey as member. There is the historic fear, kindled by the memory of the Turkish armies at the gates of Vienna in 1683, which paints potential Turkish membership of the EU as a threat to the European project. Although there are in the region of five million Turks in Europe at present, many Europeans shy away from the possibility of enlarging the Muslim population of Europe in an era of Islamism and pervading distrust of Muslims themselves. Such critics point out that only 3 per cent of Turkey is situated within the continent of Europe. Such prevarication has created both frustration and impatience in Turkey, and the sentiment both to embrace Europe and to repel it.

In many senses this is a microcosm of Turkey’s desire to face both to the East and to the West simultaneously in the twenty-first century. This has led to often convoluted positions. As Hussein Agha and Robert Malley have commented, in record time Turkey has evolved from having zero problems with its neighbours to nothing but problems with them. It has alienated Iran, angered Iraq and had a row with Israel. It virtually is at war with Syria. Iraqi Kurds are now Ankara’s allies, even as it wages war against its own Kurds and even as its policies in Iraq and Syria embolden secessionist tendencies in Turkey itself.2

Amikam Nachmani details the dramatic changes in Israeli-Turkish relations during the last decade. In one sense this has reflected the dramatic changes within Turkey itself. From a country which was once 70 per cent rural and less than 30 per cent urban, the balance has changed to 25 per cent rural and 75 per cent urban. In general, until the end of 2000, the opinions of the rural migrants into the big cities were not taken into account as far as Turkey’s foreign policy was concerned. This policy as well as policies in other areas, was determined by a number of small elites, with the Turkish military at their head. A condition for Turkey’s entry into the EU has been the demand for democratisation. But as in the Arab world, the military has not been displaced by a Western oriented liberal intelligentsia, but by the Islamists.

As Amikam Nachmani points out, ‘the Turkish Spring’ began in 2003 with the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. The AKP was also successful in elections in 2007 and 2011. The new urban elites increasingly supported Erdogan and he clearly reflected their sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Turkey has therefore become one of the leading countries to denounce Israel in international forums. While almost certainly reflecting popular feeling, the Erdogan administration used it as well to bolster its position as a leading power in the Middle East and as a means of circumventing its rival, Egypt. Indeed Egypt was not keen on a proposed Erdogan visit to Gaza.

In 2010 and 2011, Turkey opened twenty-two new embassies in African capitals, five in Latin America, and three in East Asia, the Caucasus and Iran. The United States, however, needs Turkey as an ally on almost every difficult problem in the Middle East, as well as in Central Asia and the Caucasus. In this respect the determining factor is American national interests. The White House is therefore prepared to countenance anti-Israel criticism and actions on the part of Turkey, provided that when it comes to the relations between Ankara and Washington, the former acts in accordance with US interests.

As Amikam Nachmani succinctly points out: ‘The crisis in the relations between Israel and Turkey is dwarfed by the benefit gained from improved relations between Turkey and the US.’ Moreover like the EU, trade between Turkey and Israel up to 2012 was unscathed by the bitterness of the political fallout.

The ongoing row between Israel and Turkey has catalysed a rebirth of relations between Israel and Greece. The historical memory of Ottoman colonisation remained potent in many countries. Above all, the defeat of Byzantine in 1453 and the wholesale expulsion and flight of the Greek population during the early Ataturk years remained within living memory. In addition Greece, of course, has been in the most parlous economic position of all the European states during the current crisis. Indeed the twentieth general strike in Greece since 2010 took place in October 2012. The discovery of oil reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Greek Cypriot-Israeli cooperation to exploit them annoyed the Turkish Cypriots and brought outraged condemnation from Ankara.

China and India: Emerging World Powers

Erdogan’s popularity has been forged in part due to the development and expansion of the Turkish economy. Trade is a consideration which must feature strongly in any relationship with Israel. The remarkable changes in China and its emergence as an economic superpower is a case in point. From Mao’s chaotic last years to the suited capitalist leadership of the Chinese Communist party of the early twenty-first century, such an amazing transformation was as unimaginable as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The world has changed. Yet such changes coincided historically with the defeat of the Israeli Right and the elections of Clinton in the US and Rabin in Israel.

Ironically – as Yitzhak Shichor points out – Israel was the first country in the Middle East to recognise China. Yet it took another forty-two years to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Moshe Sharett’s attempt to steer a middle path between East and West was due in part to Ben-Gurion’s reticence but also because of US pressure and the advent of the Korean War. Israel therefore did not immediately offer to establish diplomatic relations with Communist China.

By 1955, when Nehru and Tito established the non-aligned movement at the Bandung conference, China was not interested anymore in developing ties with Israel. On the contrary, Chou en-Lai’s stringent stand against social democratic Israel at the conference was appreciated by even the most reactionary and feudal Arab states. Unlike the Soviet Union, China saw itself and was seen by others as a leader of the developing world. This became accentuated by the Sino-Soviet split and the war in Vietnam. Indeed a PLO office was established in Beijing very early on after its formation.

According to Mao, Israel and Formosa (Taiwan) were two imperialist concoctions, yet this did not prevent the Chinese from turning to Israel during the Sino-Vietnamese conflict. With Deng Xiaoping at the helm amidst a thaw in Maoism, an Israeli defence industry delegation visited China in 1979. As Yitzhak Shichor notes, there were also clandestine meetings of the Foreign Ministers of China and Israel at the UN during the late 1980s. The US opposition to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 created problems for Israel’s arms sales to China and it had to cancel a Phalcon Awacs system due tothe pressure of the White House. Yasser Arafat, free from US entreaties, sent a congratulatory telegram to the Chinese leadership, following the crushing of the protest.

By 1991, China was impressed with Israel’s refusal to respond to the Skud attacks from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was also a salient lesson that China was unable to attend the Madrid conference at the end of 1991 because it did not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Even so, since the demise of the peace process after the failure of the Camp David conference in 2000 and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada a few months later, China has imitated other nations in maintaining an ongoing criticism of Israeli policies and actions while maintaining good trade links. Indeed China is Israel’s leading economic partner in Asia and its second source of imports after the US.

Moreover Putin’s Russia has now become a central supplier of arms to China. China, itself, had also become more self-reliant and has developed its own arms industry. During the 1980s China supplied both Iraq and Iran during their decade long war. It is often the Iranian adaptation of such Chinese missiles that are the ones that periodically reach Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2006 during the second Lebanon war, an Israeli frigate was hit by such a missile, the C-701. Despite the fact that Israel has been somewhat cold-shouldered by China, the US tried to prevent Israel from involving itself in the security arrangements for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

India too has an interesting history of relations with Israel. It took a leading role in the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in 1947. From the eleven nations that constituted UNSCOP, India expressed the greatest number of reservations about its conclusion to partition historic Palestine into two states. India, Iran and Yugoslavia instead compiled a minority report which called for a federal single state of Palestine, comprising of Jewish and Arab states. As P.R. Kumaraswamy indicates, India also campaigned against Israel’s admission to the UN. India clearly had to take into account the views of its Muslim minority. Moreover it also had to compete with Pakistan for the allegiance of the Arab world.

Nehru was not unsympathetic to the aspirations of Israel’s founders. Both derived a certain ideological pedigree from the British Labour party. Nehru attempted to secure Israel’s place at the founding conference of the non-aligned nations at Bandung but, given a choice of either Israel or the many countries which comprised the Arab world, he not unsurprisingly plumped for the latter.

The Suez conflict in 1956 and the Israeli defeat of Nasser’s forces placed Nehru in a difficult position since his close partner in the non-aligned movement was the Egyptian leader. Moreover the collusion with the UK and France profoundly antagonised Nehru. Yet Israel supplied India with arms in its wars with China (1962) and Pakistan (1965). Even so, India voted for the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution at the United Nations and the Israeli Consul in Bombay was expelled during Operation Peace for Galilee, the Lebanon war of 1982.

As P.R. Kumaraswamy elucidates in great detail, the normalisation came about through the collapse of the USSR, India’s close ally. India instead aligned itself with the US to secure funding from the IMF and the World Bank. In 1992 India became the last non-Islamic country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. During the last twenty years, Israel has emerged as a major arms supplier to India. In 2007, the two countries signed a $2.5 billion joint anti-missile defence system agreement. Yet India has continued to safeguard its national interests. For example, it was originally guarded about blaming Iran for the bomb attack on the wife of an Israeli diplomat in February 2012.

On Brazil and Japan

Brazil too is an emerging major economic player in the twenty-first century. It too has repeated patterns, regarding its relations with Israel, which have paralleled China and India. Any Brazilian government has had to contend with an influential Syrian-Lebanese community whose natural sympathies lie with the Palestinians as well as theological objections over Jerusalem from the Vatican. And despite pro-German sympathies in Brazil before and during the war, as Samuel Feldberg points out, if it had not been for Oswaldo Aranha, a former Foreign Minister, the vote in the United Nations in November 1947 may not have gone in favour of a two-state solution. Brazil performed a balancing act – it recognised Israel but abstained when it came to supporting its admission to the United Nations. The semblance at even-handedness was sorely tested in the 1970s when Brazil became very dependent on imported Middle East oil. It initiated a pro-Arab phase of foreign policy in which diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia were established and Brazil voted for the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution.

Despite Brazilian protests about Israeli conduct during the conflict, trade, both commercial and military, has flourished. Israel has exported agricultural technology and fertiliser products to Brazil which have helped to develop its northeast region. Recently agreements were signed whereby Israel became involved in the modernisation of the Brazilian armed forces as well as sales such as the Hermes drone. This will be used during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

During the last decade, Iran has made great efforts in its determination to strengthen and influence Latin American governments as part of its strategy to cultivate anti-American sentiment. This has been most overt in approaches to Venezuela and Bolivia, as well as including civilian and military cooperation agreements with Ecuador and Nicaragua. Even former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil has defended Iran’s right to continue with its enrichment programme. Moreover as Samuel Feldberg notes, Lula compared Iranian opposition protesters against the Khamenei regime to English football hooligans. Whilst on the one hand, Lula was the first Brazilian head of state to visit Israel, nevertheless, in September 2011 under President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil voted for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state at the UN.

Another major player in economic affairs is Japan. Yet Japan can hardly be considered to be ‘an emerging power’. Indeed it established diplomatic relations with Israel – the first in the Middle East – as far back as 1952. But as Jonathan Goldstein notes, the relationship with Jews goes back to fin de siècle Europe when Jacob Sieff, the American Jewish banker, underwrote almost $200 million in loans during the Russo- Japanese war of 1904–05. Sieff was outraged at Tsarist anti-Semitism. His action prevented the collapse of the Japanese economy and no doubt was a factor in Japan’s eventual victory over Imperial Russia. Japan also supported the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Yet pro-Zionist ardour in Japan cooled even before World War II due its trade with the Arab world. This, of course, was accentuated by Japan’s alliance with Hitler who before the final solution wanted to transfer unwanted Jews to both Japan and Japanese-occupied China. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was translated into Japanese in 1924 and the belief that US Jews categorically exercised an inordinate and disproportionate influence lingered.

On the other hand, the intervention of the Japanese consul in Kovno, Sempo Sugihara, facilitated during the Holocaust the evacuation of the Mir yeshiva (seminary) from Lithuania thus saving its members from the fate that awaited other yeshivot. Sugihara was not thanked by the official face of Japan for his efforts, and there were numerous Japanese military people who also helped Jews to settle in their region.

The post-war Japanese economic recovery after the catastrophe of defeat in 1945 was predicated therefore on profound national interest. Japanese governments found themselves pressured by the anti-Zionist far Left and pro-boycott multinational corporations at the same time.

As Jonathan Goldstein records, Japan was the only country in the Western camp at that time which did not vote against the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution. It abstained instead. Many Japanese companies refused to trade with Israel, but instead operated through dummy companies or third countries. The dialogue between Japan and Israel began to pick up during the mid-1980s and particularly when Iraq attacked Japanese oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq-Iran war.

In September 1985 Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir visited Japan and addressed the Keidanren, the Japanese manufacturers association. In February 1989 President Chaim Herzog attended the funeral of Emperor Hirohito – a controversial decision since Hirohito’s Japan was an ally of Hitler. After the Oslo Accords, Japan replaced the UK as Israel’s second largest non-military trading partner. In the major changes of the early 1990s a new relationship was initiated between Japan and Israel. Major Japanese investments in Israel included a $50 million joint venture between Mekorot, Israel’s national water carrier, and Tomen, one of Japan’s leading multinational companies specializing in water desalinisation.

Despite the precarious balancing act that Japan maintains between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the boycott of previous years seems to be much reduced in significance and effect.

The New Russia and the Old America

Russia, however, is no emerging power in the sense that China is. It is the twenty-first century successor to the Soviet Union and hopes to regain former influence and prestige by involving itself in international affairs.

In an attempt to cement its position in the Middle East, Vladimir Putin has befriended Turkey and courted Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. In January 2005 Bashar Assad visited Moscow and Putin agreed to write off nearly three-quarters of the $13.4 billion debt to Russia. It also signed an agreement to explore oil and gas deposits in Syria and to sell Assad air to surface missiles.

The following month Putin agreed to supply nuclear fuel for Iran’s Bushehr reactor. Moreover Russia’s prevarications delayed discussions about sanctions directed at Iran by the UN. Russia has continued to provide short range surface to air missiles to the Iranians and supplies arms to Assad in the bitter Syrian civil war. Together with China it has steadfastly defended Bashar Assad at the United Nations.

Furthermore, Russia denounced the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005 depicting Mohammed and invited a Hamas delegation to Moscow shortly after its election victory in 2006.

As Robert Freedman points out, Russia at the same time has maintained good relations with Israel. Trade between the two countries was more than one billion dollars in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Moreover Israel has a diasporic feel in the corridors of the Kremlin. More than one million Soviet citizens departed the USSR between 1968 and the beginning of the twenty-first century. A Russian language subculture has developed in Israel, and around 50,000 tourists from Russia visit Israel each year. Moreover Putin and Medvedev wanted to deepen the strong cultural ties between Russia and Israel in order to utilise high-tech know-how to develop the Russian economy. Medvedev in particular wanted to establish the equivalent of a Silicon Valley outside Moscow.

In addition there has been cooperation on arms sales. A five year agreement on military cooperation was signed in 2010. Israel sold drones to Russia and even agreed to build a drone factory in Russia. This followed Israel’s agreement to cease selling arms to Georgia, following its war with Russia in 2008. The common Islamist enemy has further persuaded Israel to offer cooperation with Russia on counter-terrorism.

The picture is therefore more complicated today than it was when Russia’s official ideology was Marxism-Leninism. In the 1920s thousands of Zionists were persecuted and sent into Siberian exile. Yet it can well be argued that Soviet national interest was the motivation behind Stalin’s desire to promote a two-state solution in 1947. While the Soviet Union was the midwife at the birth of the state of Israel, Zionists were simultaneously being arrested in the USSR. It was one thing for Jews to fight in 1948 for Israeli independence with Czech arms care of the Soviet Union. It was another to request leaving the USSR to join that fight.

The Soviet Union quickly returned to its pro-Arab stand, its support for Israel having served its purpose of ejecting the British from the Middle East. Indeed the last years of Stalin famously discovered ‘Zionists’ amongst the leadership of the Communist parties of the East European peoples’ democracies. In January 1953 the Kremlin claimed to have uncovered a plot by mainly Jewish doctors to poison the Kremlin leadership. Within weeks of Stalin’s demise, his successors proclaimed that it had all been a huge mistake.

Under Bulganin and Khrushchev the USSR took a pro- Arab position during the Suez crisis in the hope of spreading its influence throughout the developing world. Under Brezhnev, this approach became even more accentuated, though the USSR did not support its Arab allies militarily during the 1967 war.

As Robert Freedman suggests, Moscow began to pay more attention to the PLO after 1967. Arafat visited the USSR as part of an Egyptian delegation in 1968. The Soviet Union subsequently recognised the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974.

The Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War and also enforced the cutting of ties by its satellites in Eastern Europe – with the exception of Ceausescu’s Romania. As in 1956, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the Arab side during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, but when Anwar Sadat switched Egypt’s allegiance to the US, Moscow began to develop ties with the more radical Arab states, Syria, Iraq and Libya as well as with the PLO.

Mikhail Gorbachev changed Soviet policy profoundly toward the Israel-Arab conflict as well as toward the developing world. He told both Assad and Arafat that a political rather than a military solution had to be found. As Robert Freedman shows, by 1996, the Russian-Israeli honeymoon ended with the appointment of Yevgeny Primakov, a Soviet era hardliner, as Foreign Minister. Putin has attempted to maintain an even handed approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict while continuing good relations with Turkey, Iran and Syria. For example, Putin wanted Arab investment to develop Russia’s oil and gas industries. There have therefore been periodic protests about the settlement expansion on the West Bank.

The Last Superpower

The United States remains the last remaining superpower of the twentieth century. Regardless of the political complexion of a US administration, Israel is considered to be a friend and an ally. In part this relationship is historical, both the United States and Israel fought for their independence against the same colonial master, Britain. The citizens of both

countries believed that they were building a different society from the ones they had left. Many Americans – and in particular its evangelical community – consider Israel to be an inheritor of the Judeo-Christian heritage. Indeed the United States under President Truman was the first country to extend de facto recognition to the new state of Israel.

Yet it could also be argued that without Stalin’s support, the state of Israel would never have come into existence. This stimulated a debate within Israel about an alignment with East or West. In 1949 the pro-Soviet Mapam party was the second strongest group within the first Knesset. It believed that the USSR had finally come to its ideological senses and recognised the truth of Marxism-Zionism. Mapam believed that it was the Kremlin’s real representative in Israel – and not the Israeli Communist party.

Moshe Sharett on the other hand believed that it was possible for Israel to choose neither and remain non-aligned. Ben-Gurion by inclination and through American pressure aligned Israel with the US during the early 1950s. But as history records, the Eisenhower administration stopped the Suez operation in its tracks in 1956. Israel was forced to withdraw from Gaza in early 1957. John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State, perceived Israel to be a millstone around the American neck.

Yet by 1962 President Kennedy resurrected the warm relationship between the two countries when he told Golda Meir that Israel and the United States possessed a ‘special relationship’. Hawk missiles were exported to Israel in the same year. President Johnson sold Skyhawk fighters to the Israelis as a means of not becoming entangled in the Israel-Palestine imbroglio while the war in Vietnam was still raging. In the 1970s the US expanded military aid to Israel ten-fold. There has been $3 billion per annum in aid since 1988. There has been $109 billion in aid since 1945.

As David Weinberg points out, there is a profound intertwining between Israeli society and American society. Some 20 per cent of active Peace Now members in Israel are of American origin. Conversely over 100,000 Israelis have emigrated to the US and have assisted in cementing Netanyahu’s relations with the US Congress. Moreover US soft power has had cultural and economic influence in Israel. Yet most US Jews are staunch supporters of the Democrats and tend to be liberals in support of the peace camp in Israel. They are outnumbered 10:1 by Christian Evangelicals who tend to be conservative Republicans and are more disposed to laud the Israeli Right and its settlement policy on the West Bank. Whereas Barack Obama finally visited Israel in March 2013 at the start of his second term in office, Mitt Romney, the losing Republican candidate in the 2012 election, was feted by Netanyahu in Jerusalem the previous summer.

Since the late 1980s, there has been a close technological cooperation particularly in the development of missile warfare between the Israelis and the Americans. The first President Bush authorised the use of Patriot missiles to be deployed on Israeli soil against Saddam’s scuds. The US has effectively paid for the development of the Iron Dome system which was deployed against the missiles of Hamas, fired from Gaza in 2012.

The possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons has concentrated the minds of both Israelis and Americans. The use of the Stuxnet computer virus in 2010 alerted the public to the use of cyberwarfare. Stuxnet infiltrated the computer system of the Natanz fuel enrichment plant, 8 metres underground and surrounded by a 2.5 metre wall. The Iranians were believed to be working towards the production of 500 kg of weapons grade uranium annually. The Stuxnet virus caused the centrifuges at the nuclear facility to go spinning wildly out of control. Stuxnet and other viruses were the product of close cooperation between Israel and the United States at the highest level.

This then sketches the outline of this book and its content – and hopefully elucidates some of the singularities and repetitions that occur in the relationship with Israel. Clearly some will argue about the definition of ‘a world power’. Others will dispute the inclusion or omission of one or more countries. However, all the contributors hope that this will be a useful addition to the literature on Israel and its links to the main international players in an evolving twenty-first century.


  1. Max Nordau, ‘Speech to the First Zionist Congress’, The New Palestine 26 January 1923.
  1. Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, ‘This is not a Revolution’, The New York Review of Books 8 November 2012.


Introduction to Israel and the World Powers: Diplomatic alliances and International Relations beyond the Middle East 16 July 2014

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